Thelma Dickerson, Founder of Hartford's Jumoke Academy, Dies At 87
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
February 20, 2012
HARTFORD — — Thelma Ellis Dickerson, an outspoken educator who became president of the Hartford school board and founded Jumoke Academy in her golden years, died Saturday. She was 87.
Dickerson retired from the North End charter school in 2003 and had been in declining health, said her son, Michael Sharpe.
The former schoolteacher was born in West Virginia, grew up in New Jersey and eventually moved to Connecticut, where she settled with her children in East Hampton before making the family home in Hartford around 1970. She had been living with Sharpe on Terry Road.
Dickerson was an active member of the NAACP in the '60s before making education her life's work, Sharpe said. Weaver High School and the former Mark Twain Elementary School were among the places she taught. Dickerson also served as a school administrator in Hartford and Bloomfield.
Her second act began in 1983. At age 59, she won election to the city board of education and served for 14 years, including time as board president during which she supported the privatization of city schools, a mid-1990s experiment that ended in controversy.
In 1997, Dickerson started the family-oriented Jumoke Academy on Blue Hills Avenue to directly attack the achievement gap. It was among the first state-sponsored charter schools and one initially at risk of being shut down after several years of failing test scores.
The Jumoke name means "everyone loves the child" in Yoruba, a Niger-Congo language, and what began with 125 students has grown to 490 in grades pre-K to 8. Last spring, 100 percent of third-graders — all from minority groups — scored proficient in math on the Connecticut Mastery Test. Many students score at or above the state average.
Sharpe, the school's chief executive officer, said Monday that Jumoke is his mother's legacy to the city.
"It represents all that she thought public school education can be for urban children," he said.
State Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, whose district includes the Blue Hills neighborhood, said Dickerson's fierce advocacy inspired him as a young teacher at Rawson School, and later when he decided to run for public office.
"When things didn't go her way, she didn't stop — she created her own school," said McCrory, vice chairman of the legislature's education committee. "The results speak for themselves."
Taryn Perry said her daughter was a second-grader and one of the original students to attend Jumoke when it opened about 15 years ago. The girl is set to graduate from college in a few months.
"Thelma's spirit is what got Jumoke started," said Perry, president of the school's board of directors. "When you walk into Jumoke, you know that Thelma is still here."
Dickerson leaves behind five adult children: George and Michael Sharpe, and Joseph, William and Ethel Dickerson. Her oldest daughter, Lois Sharpe, a former Hartford school administrator, died in 2010.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bethel AME Church in Bloomfield. Visiting hours begin at 9 a.m.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at